“I’m heading into the snake pit,” I mused, turning to leave for the office. My husband grinned and gave the usual head nod, placing his newspaper on a table to direct his attention my way. “Let me look you over.” He wanted to make sure I appeared presentable, which usually involved a sticky tape lint remover he used to roll away dust particles stuck to my jacket. I didn’t care too much about the lint. After two cups of my favorite Sumatra blend, my mind was already racing on other matters pertaining to work.
It was the year 2000 and I was hired to work as a tribal council executive assistant. Like any other typical workday, I planned to check into the office then head into the tribal council chambers for a long day of note-taking, legislative research, and a plethora of miscellaneous “gopher-duties” (go for this, go for that, etc.).
I referred to the tribal council chambers as a “snake pit” because of the way councilors would coil up in polished leather executive chairs and viciously lash out at each other with angry words on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. With finger’s pointed and tempers flaring, voices bellowed and fists pounded on mahogany tables followed by wall shaking slams of heavy wooden chamber doors. Typical stuff.
Most of the tribe never saw these daily shenanigans. For the majority, those occurrences were secretive; a mystery penetrated only by occasional gossip filtering through the moccasin grapevine. But for those of us who worked on the council floor, we were first-hand witnesses to the daily high-towered strife.
Rarely was there trust, mutual respect or unity among the tribal councilors unless the assurance of personal gain was secured. The narcissistic scrambling to either manipulate or one-up each other became the bane of all the staffers forced to observe it.
The focus on that particular morning? Parking spaces for tribal council.
Who got to use which parking spaces, who’s name went where, who would park closest to the building, who had the most seniority, etc. And it took more than four hours for them to wade through this one agenda topic. Unfortunately, for several of them, the job of tribal councilor was all about them.
Enough is enough.
Fast forward to today, and we find ourselves at the start of another Mashantucket Pequot tribal council election season. Three seats are up for election among our seven council members, and while we have witnessed positive gains in recent years regarding the manner in which our tribal councilors interact with one another, we have an ongoing quest to continue identifying candidates worthy of leadership positions based on selflessness, intellectual skills, patience, positive attitudes and overall leadership potential. We need to continue the forward-thinking momentum and do whatever we can to avoid regressing backward to the way things were years ago.
With an unprecedented financial crisis, government restructuring and community of members reeling from the stress of it all, we simply can no longer afford self-absorbed elected officials who make everything all about them. We cannot afford leaders who strive to one-up each other in a twisted chess game of family political domination. We cannot afford the vindictive infighting by bitter individuals hell-bent on getting back at the ones who offended them long ago. We can’t afford leaders who spew vicious rumors and accusations at one another for wrongdoing, all the while viewing themselves through rose-colored glasses. For these represent just a few root causes of why we find ourselves in our current financial situation.
So how do we choose good leaders?
What should we look for in a tribal council candidate? Last year at this time, I focused on what to watch out for; how to avoid electing poor leadership. Through the month of October 2012, I’ll post a series focusing on what we ought to look for in a leader. What makes a good leader? How do you know if someone is ready for leadership? Stay tuned and find out.
It’s your turn: What qualities do you look for in a political candidate or potential leader?